Carolyn and Luisa

Name: Carolyn

Child: Luisa, 2 years old 

Location: Heaton Moor

Expectations of Motherhood: It was ironic that I was so “over” being pregnant by the time Luisa arrived yet we paid very little attention to what life would be like when she did- because I never really accepted the fact that it was going to happen! I was 39 when I conceived, I was a pincushion under the care of the recurrent miscarriage clinic and then I developed gestational diabetes.

What to Expect… lay largely unread by my bed and apart from a white blanket, I bought very few baby items. I definitely didn’t expect it to be easy but perhaps not that it would feel so alien and strange.

Reality of Motherhood: Those first few months of being a parent are a bit like I imagine Stockholm Syndrome (or Helsinki Syndrome, if you’re a Die Hard Fan), where I gradually fell in love with my captor.

Seriously though, those first months are lost in a haze now, but from hormones to over-production of breast milk, I remember a sense that you weren’t really in control of what your own body is doing. As you might expect from such a heavily medicalised pregnancy, the birth was too and it took me a while to recover physically. 

The concept of Maternity leave is all fun and games but it actually was hard work and often quite lonely. Still now that I work at a school three days a week, the days I spend at home are definitely harder work. I’m quite careful never to say that I have two days off a week- cos I definitely don’t! Sanity was maintained through finding a group of new parents to bond with, who knew first hand what it was like in real time. Our tribe became known as “Is This Normal?”. We met at pregnancy yoga classes and regularly organised get together and over-shared via WhatsApp. Many of us are still in touch today and we’ve been to many second birthday parties together just recently!

Taking your child home for the first time: The idea that some parents don’t get to take a baby home was (and remains) deeply embedded in my psyche, so I didn’t allow myself to imagine what it would be like. We were in hospital for about three days after Luisa was born and I cried when we left.

I wanted to take one of these virtually teenaged midwives with me (mine smelled of Coco Mademoiselle and cigarette smoke) as they knew so much more how to look after my baby than I did. I know that both my husband and I had an overwhelming sense of “Oh shit. What are we supposed to do now?”.

The best/worst advice given: It feels like there’s very little bad advice- people are only sharing what worked for them but just don’t expect it to work for your baby and don’t feel bad when it doesn’t!

I started to do baby led weaning at 6 months and tried controlled crying essentially because other people had suggested that we give it a go. I really beat myself up when she wouldn’t eat what Annabel Karmel had said she would and I was so pleased when we stopped doing controlled crying!

The best advice that counts for so many situations- not just motherhood- is that “comparison is the thief of joy”. I spent so much wasted time comparing her to other babies and what their mothers told me they were doing/not doing; wondering why baby led weaning wasn’t working (she wasn’t ready) or walking (she wasn’t ready) or sleeping well (she still ain’t ready, but is getting better).

She’s (of course) doing these things now, plus she’s sociable, a smiler, super clever and does an amazing rendition of Electric Dreams by Phil Oakey. And not many other babies can do that!

The hardest parts of being a mother: I think it must be the forward planning that’s necessary. Being ‘off the cuff’ takes about two hours of planning and packing.

It can make me feel quite depressed when I’m at home with Luisa and I have to start considering the timing of meals, naps and bed time before the first mouthful of Rice Krispies have been consumed of a morning. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate the value of spontaneity in my life before Luisa came along but I certainly miss it now.

The best parts of being a mother: How much I actually like my daughter! She’s the boss (in the many interpretations of that phrase). Of course I love her (and that love just keeps growing beyond what you think is possible) but she makes me and my husband laugh on a daily basis, we talk about her when she’s not with us and we find her development astounding and fascinating. I can’t wait to see her develop further.

My pride in Luisa grows all the time and I love that.

I felt some guilt associated with having Luisa for a long time, as the older you are when you come to motherhood the more you will have seen the struggles of others with infertility and seen the way in which women are judged for both choosing not to have children and the changes that they go through when they do. I love to hear about all of my friends’ achievements in life- children or not- and I finally feel that I can be loud and proud (and much less apologetic) about my amazing daughter and how she has changed our lives!

Has becoming a mother changed you? It’s made everything “more”!
I’m more efficient with time, more tired, more fearful, angry, irritated, joyful, grateful. Life has been turned up to eleven.

I’ve experienced a few life events that have made me view things from a different perspective and this is certainly one of them. I am proud of what my body has done (especially now that I have recovered physically), how happy and fulfilled Luisa has made me and my husband and the added value that she’s given to many of our relationships. It gives me a real sense of accomplishment.

On the downside, my tendency to try to please everyone has certainly got worse. I suppose, it’s because so much of my time these days is spent second guessing what someone who really can’t communicate wants! At times, it’s genuinely hard to guess whether I am doing something because I want it or because I think that someone else might.

Has your perspective on work changed since becoming a mother? When a possible promotion came up at work, I immediately thought to apply, wondering what my employer, my friends who have to work full time and our families would think if I didn’t. At first, I didn’t stop to think whether I actually wanted it and what I would realistically mean for our family life if I got it.

I am fortunate enough to only work for three days a week. Before Luisa, I had been teaching for fourteen years and, to be honest, I was a bit bored.
But now, I enjoy my work again. I love to spend time with actual adults who engage in conversations with me!
Plus, because I’m a Psychology teacher, teaching attachment theory has a whole new meaning to me.

Hopes for your family: I hope that a full night’s sleep will become a regularity rather than a rarity and that potty training is easier than literally any of my friends with older children have explained. I hope Luisa continues on this trajectory of being a superb little human.

I have always been a feminist but becoming a mother of a daughter has only intensified it. I sometimes catch myself treating Luisa far more gently than I see my in friends with little boys. At least I am conscious of this and will try as hard as I can to encourage her to brave, adventurous and inquisitive as well as kind and sensitive to others. Gosh- When you think about it-that’s a really big job!

I don’t know about trying for another- I’m 42 and probably reaching my last few chances. I really enjoy being Luisa’s mummy and think that she’d love a sibling to boss about but then I think of the down sides!

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: The motherhood mystique is such a problematic part of being a parent: You don’t have to enjoy parenting all the time and not loving it doesn’t make you bad at it.

Having a baby is not the only amazing thing you’ve done in your life. By becoming a mother you’ve become very special to someone but you were before that, too.

Nursery is GREAT for them. Sending them away for the day will be difficult but if it can be afforded somehow, it’s so worth it! 

Also, buy patterned clothes. They show up the marks much less.

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